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Types of Headaches

The 4 most common types of headaches people can suffer from are Tension, Migraine, Sinus, and Cluster Headaches.  The National Headaches Foundation has a list of 29 different types of headaches.  In our practice we do see some of the other types of headaches they list such as TMJ, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Post-Traumatic Head Injury, and Menstrual Headaches.  Many of the other headaches are classified due to severe health conditions such as aneurisms of the brain and cancer.  Although severe causes are rare to see they can exist and must always be ruled out with a recent onset headache.

Tension Headache

Tension Headaches are by far the most common headache complaint we see in the office.  Tension headaches are pain in the back of the head at the base of the skull.  The pain can be on one side of the head or both.  When they are intense they can radiate over the entire head to the eye.  The good news is that this headache is easily treatable with conservative care.  The pain is coming from inflammation within the sub-occipital muscles at the base of the skull.  These muscles get overworked from stress and poor posture.  When we hold our head too far forward these muscle work extra hard trying to hold the head upright.  Over time they get inflamed and will develop painful trigger points.  Trigger points in the sub-occipital muscles can refer pain into the head and the neck.  Chiropractic Care, Massage Therapy, and Lifestyle modifications can easily resolve this type of headache.  Life style modifications include home stretching, workplace ergonomic optimization, and in some case dietary avoidance of trigger foods.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are the most complex and least understood of all headaches.  Many theories have tried to explain what causes them to develop and it is probably the result of different factors from person to person.  The pain symptoms that arise from a migraine are the result of first vasoconstriction with the blood vessels within the brain.  The vasoconstriction results in increased chemicals being produced by the brain cells as a result of oxygen deprivation.  These chemicals then result in a rapid vasodilation of the blood vessels causing increased pressure and pain.  The different phases of the migraine are a result of this process.  Early in a migraine symptoms are related oxygen deprivation then late in the migraine pressure is causing the symptoms. Migraine headaches respond very well to Chiropractic Care and Massage Therapy especially if treated early during onset or used as maintenance to prevent the onset.

The 4 phases of a migraine

  1. Prodrome: 24 hours prior to the onset of symptoms people report feeling off not right.  Some have water retention, mood swings, yawning, or food cravings.  This phase more than likely correlates with what starts the process such as a dietary triggers, hormone shifts, or stress to name a few possible culprits.
  2. Aura: Just before or during the headache any neurologic symptoms could develop but commonly flashes of light, seeing zig zag lines, decreased visual acuity, numbness or weakness anywhere in the body.  This phase is a result of oxygen deprivation to the brain.
  3. Headache: This phase starts with gradual onset of throbbing pain to onside usually or both sides of the head.  As this phase progresses the headache can become severe followed by sensitivity to odors, light, and sound.  You may also develop nausea and vomiting.  It has been noted that any of the mentioned symptoms of this phase may be absent including the headache.  This phase is due to rapid vasodilation and pressure in the brain.
  4. Postdrome: This is felt after the symptoms of the Headache phase resolve.  During this phase you feel wiped out tired for a day.

What causes migraines?

Researchers believe that migraine has a genetic cause. There are also a number of factors that can trigger a migraine. These factors vary from person to person, and they include

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Bright or flashing lights
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Medicines
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Sudden changes in weather or environment
  • Overexertion (too much physical activity)
  • Tobacco
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Skipped meals
  • Medication overuse (taking medicine for migraines too often)

Some people have found that certain foods or ingredients can trigger headaches, especially when they are combined with other triggers. These foods and ingredients include

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Aged cheeses
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Some fruits and nuts
  • Fermented or pickled goods
  • Yeast
  • Cured or processed meats

Sinus Headache

Sinus headaches can be a seasonal pollen related issue or a year round issue from foods, dust, and pets.  The pain felt is the result of pressure building up within the sinus cavities.  The sinuses are located behind the bones of the forehead and below the eyes in the cheek.  The common symptom is forehead, eye, or face pain almost always to one side.  The nature of the pain is dull aching pressure.  Some people experience these headaches even though they have no congestion or drainage in the nose.  To treat these headaches it is necessary to treat the allergies.  We have found great success using our Allergy Desensitization treatment.  If the allergy can be eliminated the headaches no longer occur.

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are usually the most painful of all headaches.  Some people wake up in intense pain when one hits. The name cluster headache refers to clusters of time not location. These headaches will come and go with long periods of remission. Cluster episodes can last from a week to a year occurring daily. The attacks can happen multiple times per day. Most commonly the onset occurs at night waking a person up. The pain lasts from 15 minutes up to 3 hours.

Symptoms of a Cluster Headache

  • Excruciating pain that is generally situated in, behind or around one eye, but may radiate to other areas of your face, head and neck
  • One-sided pain
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive tearing
  • Redness of your eye on the affected side
  • Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side
  • Forehead or facial sweating on the affected side
  • Pale skin (pallor) or flushing on your face
  • Swelling around your eye on the affected side
  • Drooping eyelid on the affected side

The cause of cluster headaches is unknown at this time but it is theorized that the symptoms are related to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.  Using steroid medications has been shown to give some relief telling us that it has an inflammatory component.  We have found success combining Chiropractic Care to correct autonomic nervous system imbalances and the Anti-inflammatory Diet to decrease possible causes of inflammation

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